August 3: George Freeman Bragg, Jr., Priest, 1940

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

George Freeman Bragg, Jr.
George Freeman Bragg, Jr.

An historian whose work gives us invaluable insight into the early history of African Americans in the Episcopal Church, George Freeman Bragg served for 35 years as the secretary of the Conference for Church Workers Among the Colored People and authored important studies such as A History of the Afro-American Group of The Episcopal Church and Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.

The grandson of a slave, Bragg was born into an Episcopalian family in Warrenton, North Carolina in 1863. As a young man he campaigned for the Readjuster Party in Virginia, which advocated for voting rights and state supported higher education for African- Americans. He was the editor of the influential black weekly paper The Lancet, which he renamed the Afro-American Churchman upon his entrance into divinity school in 1885. Through this paper, Bragg called attention to the fact that African Americans were treated as recipients of mission work but were not supported in raising up self- sustaining institutions that would have fostered their presence in the church.

George Bragg was ordained a deacon in 1887 in Norfolk, Virginia. He challenged the diocese’s policy of requiring black men to remain in deacon’s orders for five or more years, much longer than their white counterparts, and in 1888 he was ordained a priest. He served as the rector of St. James’ First African Church in Baltimore for 49 years, from 1891 until his death in 1940. He helped establish the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children, and did not cease in his advocacy for black Episcopalians and their full inclusion in the larger life of the church. He vehemently challenged the exclusion of African Americans from the church’s society for mission work. He was instrumental in fostering over twenty priestly vocations in an environment in which black Episcopalians were often left to fend for themselves without the support and resources of the larger church.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, we thank you for the strength and courage of George Freeman Bragg, who rose from slavery to freedom, documented African-American history, and helped to found the first advocacy group for black people. Grant that we may tell the story of your wondrous works in ways that proclaim your justice in our own time, to the glory of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Wisdom 10:9–17

2 Corinthians 10:3–7

Luke 17:20–31

Psalm 143:5–10

Preface of Baptism

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

10 thoughts on “August 3: George Freeman Bragg, Jr., Priest, 1940

  1. Collect: This collect needs to be re-written. It just reads, and prays, unevenly. At the very least the term “African-American” needs to be reconsidered as it is not consistent with other collects in HWHM.
    Hebrew and NT Readings: They seem to fit well..
    Gospel: Why is this pericope appropriate?

    Bio: 2nd paragraph – Father Bragg was born into an ‘Episcopalian family’? Episcopalian is a noun isn’t it?
    2nd and 3rd paragraphs – The term ‘African-American’ is used three times: once with a hyphen and twice without it. If you decide to retain it, then it must be consistent. As you have used ‘black Episcopalians’, might Black Americans (capital B) be better?
    3rd paragraph: ‘to remain in deacon’s orders …’ This is inconsistent with other terminology used in HWHM. I suggest ‘to remain a deacon …’.

  2. “An historian who gives us valuable insight…” is a weak beginning to the bio, making it sound as though this dedicated, active, persevering, effective, and inspiring priest –who certainly deserves to be in HWHM–was simply a good academic writer. (no small acheivement, but not deserving of sainhood). The information needed is there in the bio, but the bio should start with tihe more compellling reasons for Fr. Bragg’s inclusion.

  3. It seems to me very odd that the faithful George F. Bragg, Jr., would be honored on the same day as the notorious W.E.B. DuBois. The bio speaks of the Rev. George F. Bragg as the grandson of a slave but the collect says that Bragg rose from slavery. There were not a lot of free blacks in Warren County, NC in 1862 but as of January 1, 1863 all blacks would have been “free” as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. Had the Rev. Bragg’s parents been emancipated? In that case, they probably would not have been allowed to continue to live in Warren County. If that was true, then the Rev. Bragg was not born a slave. This does need some clarification. Thank you.

  4. Hein and Shattuck’s The Episcopalians says that Bragg was born in slavery, that his parents were freed in 1865. I suppose this is a good reminder to many of us that the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t necessarily make it so.
    In any case, Bragg is certainly worthy of inclusion in HWHM. As for the Collect, could we use Bragg’s own words – just as we did for DuBois at GC in that collect – and say something about his having written/documented the History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church? Granted that is too long but we might want to use Afro-American since Bragg did. I think the argument to keep “black folk” on the floor of GC could be applied here as well.
    The Hein/Shattuck biography also indicates that the practice of requiring blacks to serve as deacons for five years was a regional one rather than merely a diocesan one. If we are going to tell Bragg’s story, don’t we owe it to ourselves and future generations of Episcopalians to be honest about this shameful time in our history? In that regard, why does the biography not mention his own rather glaring error – the desire to create a black missionary district? While I give thanks for Bragg’s ministry, I am very glad that this never happened. I wonder why he pushed for this? Could it have been because blacks were tired of having whites tell them how they should be church? Perhaps the answer lies in his publications which I, for one, haven’t read yet.

    • Your point about “paper” emancipation and “actual” emancipation is well taken. For nearly all the slaves in North Carolina, emancipation did not come until the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnson to Gen. Wiliam T. Sherman at Bennett Place (now Durham Co., NC) on April 26, 1865. And it was not until May 1, 1865 that most of the remaining Confederate troops in North Carolina surrendered. So, Joseph F. Bragg, Jr. was the SON of slaves, not just GRANDSON of slaves. Sorry to nitpick, but when one lives quite literally “just down the road a piece” from where these events took place, one tends to pick up on the details.

  5. It is inconsistent to say that Bragg was the grandson of slaves in the commemoration and then that he rose from slavery in the collect. One implies that he is two generations out from slavery and the other indicates that he was a slave himself. Granted two generations is not long in that time but seems to be a lifetime today.

    I agree that the use of the term historian instead of activist seems odd. Bragg did fight to include African Americans in their own church.

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